Toni Morrison

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How would one analyze "race" in Toni Morrison's short story "Recitatif"?

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Race is a slippery concept in Toni Morrison's short story “Recitatif,” and it is meant to be. We cannot quite nail down the race of the characters, and the characters cannot quite nail down their own concepts of race. Let's look at this in more detail.

Of the two main characters, Twyla and Roberta, one is white and one is black, but we are never told which is which. Readers naturally want to try to figure out the mystery, but this also leads them to confront stereotypes about the races, and really, we can never quite know for sure. Just when we think we have figured it out, someone says or does or implies something that makes us wonder.

The characters themselves have some sticky issues with race. The girls' mothers, for instance, are not happy with their daughters becoming friends with someone of another race. Roberta remembers Maggie, the kitchen lady at St. Bonny's, as black while Twyla recalls her as white. Roberta mentions tense race relations as an excuse for her snub of Twyla at the Howard Johnson's lunch counter. This makes us think that perhaps Twyla is the one who is black, yet we still are not quite sure.

The story is intended to make us reflect on our own concept of race and also to ask ourselves just why it is so important.

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